After decades of combat flying in the harsh Middle East environment, the Air Force embarked on an aggressive program to deal with an insidious problem that steals aircraft performance, greatly increases maintenance requirements, results in higher fuel consumption rates, and increases emissions. The culprit, the constant erosion and corrosion of high-pressure compressor (HPC) and turbofan (TF) blades due to environmental particulates (EPs). These small particulates include sand/dust, smoke/pollutants, sea salts, volcanic ash, and rain droplets that slowly erode and corrode compressor blades, thus reducing engine performance and fuel efficiency.
To mitigate excessive compressor blade wear, and potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) launched a test and evaluation program to identify protective coatings for vulnerable compressor blades. After years of research and analysis, one coating consistently outperformed all others and was competitively down-selected for use on USAF aircraft.